Mobi Warren, educator

For nearly twenty years, I have been using the story “Who Speaks for Wolf”, with students ranging from pre-kinder to college, but primarily with students 8-11 years old.

In its simplest application, I simply present the story to my students three times a year. I may tell it orally as a storyteller (this is usually their favorite way of hearing it), have them listen to it on tape, or ask them to follow along in the book as I read (I have a class set.) At the end of the story, I allow for a moment of silence, and then ask the question “And what may we learn from this?” The students know that all responses are welcome and will be listened to respectfully. Some common responses are that it is important to include everyone before making a decision, that all beings, not just humans, are valuable, and that it is important to understand those who are different from us.

In addition to sharing Wolf, two classroom practices inspired by this Learning Way have a special place in my class every year.

The first is the Wolf Council we hold on the first Friday of every month. In good weather, we do this outside. Otherwise, we move the desks to create an open space in the center of the classroom. In either case, we sit on the earth (floor) in a circle. I remind students that this is our special time to build community through listening to one another, a time to offer reflections and ideas. A “talking stick” (I happen to use a small wooden stick that came with a Vietnamese wooden drum, but any stick will do) is passed clockwise around the circle. Two “rules” are observed. One only speaks when one is holding the stick, and one listens deeply to each person. I find that early in the year, students are often too shy to speak or don’t know what to say (i.e. afraid they won’t say the “right thing” or what is “expected”), but this changes over time and students are soon looking forward to Wolf Council. They love this circle time when each person is valued equally, each affirmed. They definitely become better listeners and more supportive of each other.

When new ideas are offered during Wolf Council to improve our classroom community, I do my best to see that they are implemented. This lets students know that “new eyes wisdom” is truly valued. Last year, students wanted to make our classroom more colorful and friendly, so I sewed curtains and several students donated stuffed animals to sit atop our computers. Other ideas have included caring for plants on the playground, doing more art, and setting up peer tutoring opportunities. Sometimes, students have found ways to work out disagreements by listening to each other in Wolf Council. Once, one girl shared during our council that she wished world leaders would hold Wolf Councils because she was certain it would help bring peace to the world. When two new students, evacuees from Hurricane Katrina, joined our classroom, I was touched by how the other students used their talking stick time to welcome them.

The other practice is Earth Sitting. I try to do this a few times a year and often integrate it with a science or language arts lesson that I have planned to take place outdoors. Each student is asked to select a quiet space on the playground and to sit silently for several minutes, observing what he or she sees, hears, feels. I tell them they might choose to connect with one thing such as a plant or insect or stone. In science, this has helped students come up with questions about the natural world they want to explore. In language arts, this has served as a powerful prelude to poetry writing. I give each student a clipboard with paper and pencil and they are free to write down their observations, feelings, and thoughts during their earth sitting. Later they use these “notes” to write a poem. Here’s a poem one student wrote that became a classroom favorite:

Cover me with your grass, Ground.

Cover me with your leaf, Tree.

Cover me with your cloud, Sky.

Cover me with anything, ‘cause Mother Earth

loves all creatures.

Mother Nature, cover me with your creatures.

Brittany, 4th grade

(This poem is all the more remarkable when you learn that the author was a Katrina evacuee whose entire life had been turned upside down just weeks before.)

You might think that a nice playground with lots of green space is necessary for this practice, but my South Texas urban school has a very limited, scrubby, nearly tree-less yard full of stickers! I do remind students to bring an old towel to sit on if they are nervous about prickly plants!

Last year, my students often referred to themselves as peacemakers. I believe this sense of themselves evolved from the deep and respectful listening they practiced during Wolf Council and Earth Sitting.